Rummanah Aasi
  It is often said that history is written by the victor, but what happens when you are given two sides of the same story. Who is the winner and who is the loser? In J. Anderson Coast's debut novel, The Wicked and the Just, which details the occupation of Wales in the Middle Ages, the answer isn't simple.


Description (from Goodreads): Cecily’s father has ruined her life. He’s moving them to occupied Wales, where the king needs good strong Englishmen to keep down the vicious Welshmen. At least Cecily will finally be the lady of the house.
  Gwenhwyfar knows all about that house. Once she dreamed of being the lady there herself, until the English destroyed the lives of everyone she knows. Now she must wait hand and foot on this bratty English girl.
  While Cecily struggles to find her place amongst the snobby English landowners, Gwenhwyfar struggles just to survive. And outside the city walls, tensions are rising ever higher—until finally they must reach the breaking point.


Review: The Wicked and the Just brings in a fresh voice to the historical fiction genre. Majority of the historical fiction that I've read usually paints the time period of their setting in a romantic light with the emphasis on ambiance, clothes, and mannerisms. While there is some of that in Coat's debut novel, there is also a stark reality of what really happened. Instead of given the voice of a victor, we are given two unapologetic voices that forces us to choose who is bad and good.
  Readers looking for an action packed book, may be disappointed with The Wicked and the Just. Though there is action, especially in the second half of the book, it's mostly off the page. The book's pacing is relatively slow and then quickly crescendos to its climax, allowing the reader to fully feel the realities of the time period. The book is clearly character driven and what made this book, in my opinion, shine.
 The center of our story are two girls of polar opposites who are unwillingly brought together by the English conquest of Wales. The English Cecily who is in a tizzy becase she has to leave her home and relocate to the Welsh frontier. She seeks consolation that she will become the lady of the manor when her father will soon take a borough in Caernarvon, which was recently conquered by Edward I. I had a very strong aversion to Cecily at first. She reminded me a lot of Scarlet O'Hara, a character that I absolutely detest. Cecily is spoiled, superficial, and puts importance of hosting the right parties, ignorant of the atrocities that are happening around her. Not only does Cecily hates Caernarvon, she also abhors its natives, especially Gwinny, the servant girl who doesn't obey, and the young man who stares at her. While Cecily's characterization may seem simplistic at first, it starts to take on depth as her dismissal of the Welsh as subhuman slowly changes to sympathy and then something entirely in between.
  While Cecily informs us the comfortable lifestyle of someone fortunate in the Middle Ages, we are confronted by the cruel, cold world of Gwenhwyfar, who struggles to make ends meet for basic survival. Gwenhwyfar's fierce parallel story was much more appealing to me as a reader. While her section was terse, it cut straight to the chase without sugar-coating anything. It's hard not to warm up to her at first, however, I'm not so sure how I felt about her in the end.
  Speaking of the ending, I thought it was so brutal and unexpected. It threw my already conceived notions and feelings about the characters into a blender as it forced me to think harder about identifying who was wicked and who was just. Without coloring the book with her own opinions, Coats re-creates the occupation of Wales from the eyes of both opposing sides.
 Since I don't know much of the Middle Age time period, I can't comment on how historical accuracy of the book. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who like historical fiction with depth are interested in this time period.

Curricular Connection: Social Studies

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence, which mostly happens off the page, but are talked about in the book. There are a few scenes of attempted rape, and some language. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Catherine, Called the Birdy by Karen Cushman, The King's Shadow by Elizabeth Adler
6 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    "Instead of given the voice of a victor, we are given two unapologetic voices that forces us to choose who is bad and good."

    That makes me very much want to read this book Rummanah! As does your mention of a brutal and unexpected ending, I enjoy being caught off guard:) I think I would really enjoy this one, beautiful review!


  2. Historical fiction is not really my thing, but I can certainly understand the presented tension between the two vastly different dynamics.


  3. I love reading historical fantasy because of the nice things (e.g. pretty clothes, nice banquets) but the reality was probably very different for most people. So, I like that this one focuses more on the reality. I'm really curious about the ending since it threw preconceived thoughts about the characters out the window.


  4. Wow, I just don't know how I would feel about this book. I think it isn't for me. I don't love historicals that much that I would like it and I get a sense of the feel for what happens at the end, and I couldn't stand that after I've become attached to characters, even if they are unbearable. Nope, I leave that to you librarians and history buffs.

    That was an extremely informative review. It helped me make up my mind about the book. I very much appreciate it! You did a really great job!

    Heather


  5. I have read many reviews on this an you broke it down the best. I kmow very little about the middle ages and this sounds like it has a lot to offer so I am adding it to my TBR list :)


  6. I think our views of this book are very similar. I really enjoyed it. I do respect both Cecily and Gwinny. The ending totally shocked me.


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